I hope you have had an enjoyable Easter break and are enjoying the spring sunshine… I have now scheduled the next batch of BiSS ballet classes, and will be resuming teaching from Thursday 22nd April. Classes will be continuing online via Zoom for the coming term as the URC remains closed; I am in touch with them about what may be necessary to enable them to open again safely, and will keep you posted of any developments.
I am issuing invitations to the following:
Thursday morning Advanced classes starting on 22nd April 10.00-11.30am
Monday Intermediate classes starting on 26th April 5.30-7.00pm
Adult beginners classes starting on Saturday 24th April 10.00-11.15am
If you would like to receive an invitation for any of these classes and have not already received one please email me. The price remains the same at £7 per class; you are welcome to pay for a batch of classes rather than singly if that is more convenient. If you are having any issues over payment or affordability please do contact me.
If Zoom is not your thing, why not check out the series “Enchainement of the day” on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channel here, which provide you with a daily enchainement to work on in your own time and at your own pace. For less experienced dancers wishing to maintain their practice at home in their own time there is also film of last summer’s adult beginners’ class with full explanation and demonstration, available by private link for £25; please contact me for details.
Looking forward to seeing you back in class soon! Susie
When I finished last year’s review of the year with best wishes for 2020 little did I suspect quite what a year it would be… Apologies for a long posting! Do hover over names and titles to find embedded links to further information.
2020 began busily, making final corrections to my doctoral thesis and writing papers emerging from my research. I delivered “Developing craft in the ballet class” at the Parallax 14 Craft and Art Symposium at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on 12th February. This friendly but thought provoking one day event brought together papers and performance presentations from artists and scholars in a variety of disciplines and genres in stimulating discussion.
No sooner that completed than I was preparing “We can know more that we can tell: transmitting knowledge in the ballet class” for presentation as part of the University of Malta’s three day Conference Performance Knowledges: Transmission, Composition, Praxis. Husband Pete and I left London for sunny Malta on Tuesday 10th March, my paper scheduled for the Friday. Held in the heart of picturesque Valetta in the dignified stone building of the old University the first day programme of this international gathering was truly exciting in its breadth and variety. But at the end we were summoned together in the main hall and it was announced that the rest of the conference was to be cancelled. The seriousness of the contagion of Covid19 taking hold frighteningly in Italy was beginning to be fully realised, and the Maltese government summarily imposed strict 14 day quarantine measures on foreigners arriving from several European countries. Over a final convivial drink with colleagues and new found friends we made the sad but necessary decision to get the first flight out the next morning, back to the UK, where the following week lockdown was announced – and life changed.
Like so many other self employed I lost all my work with lockdown; it was no longer possible to teach my regular classes, as the URC Hall had to close, and such communal activities were in any case not permitted. Soon other commitments further ahead were also cancelled as all realised that restrictions and social distancing measures would be in place indefinitely. It soon became apparent that the only way to maintain practice and perhaps a livelihood was to embrace possibilities online offered by platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and the newly emerging Zoom; a daunting prospect for a technical Luddite like myself. Here a huge thank you to Arts Council England for their speedy and sympathetic deployment of Emergency Funding ; their grant provided a cushion of time and funds for resources while I struggled to adapt to online working and develop new skills and ideas for taking Ballet in Small Spaces forward in the digital realm.
The dance world responded to the devastating curtailment of live activities with immediate enterprise. Companies made recordings of past performances digitally available to make up for the lack of live shows; but also, alongside numerous independent teachers, began offering live-streamed classes for dancers to participate in from their own homes. An extraordinary choice opened up, enabling professionals and amateurs to study with teachers from all over the world, sampling class practice at institutions such as English National Ballet, where Director Tamara Rojo taught a series of daily classes from her kitchen, and Paris Opera Ballet, whose grandes étoiles such as Dorothée Gilbert took turns to share barre work from their homes. I enjoyed dipping into the sympathetic and upbeat class of the Norwegian Ballet’s ballet master Jahn Magnus Johansen, and the wisdom of veteran Paris based teacher Wayne Byers. Some of the huge online offer was of questionable quality; so special thanks to colleague Ségolène Tarte and Sonia Tycko for their instructive sampling and judicious recommendations…
My initial experience of the live interaction of Zoom and streamed classes was negative; we are all now familiar with peering at thumbnail pictures of anxious faces or partially obscured bodies in cramped domestic spaces, stilted conversations, inexplicable loss of sound or picture, screeching sound distortions. For that reason my heart goes out to those who have decided that Zoom ballet classes are not for them, too stressful to follow teaching this distanced, or perhaps just one online interaction too many in a day where much work is now by computer. I began teaching online in late March by posting single enchaînements on Instagram, soon migrating to YouTube, with the idea of providing something fully visible, explained in detail, and viewable as many times as necessary, that people could learn in their own time and at their own pace. Our kitchen was cleared to become a space for dancing, and I owe a huge vote of thanks to Pete for filming me demonstrating these on my iPhone. The “Enchaînement of the day” series worked gradually through the barre and centre of a whole class and then some further groups of related enchaînements around particular themes. You can find all 51 on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channelhere.
By the end of April it became apparent that we were not going to be back in the URC Hall for the foreseeable future, and there was a real need to provide some complete live online classes tailored to what people could do in their own homes. I started to offer a series of Monday evening “Kitchen classes” via Zoom, welcoming back regular students; at the end of May adding a series of BiSS Thursday morning classes. An impressively large number gave the classes a try, and an encouraging number began attending regularly. Eternal thanks to all who generously provided illuminating and helpful feedback on their experience of my initial pilot!
These two classes for intermediate to advanced dancers gave me the confidence to offer through July a 5 class series for adult beginners. I had worried that beginners would find learning by Zoom particularly challenging; without the support of others around whom one could watch and copy in moments of doubt, and the mutual encouragement and shared fun that had become so much a part of these classes before Covid19 struck. It was heart-warming to see how people embraced the opportunity to resume their learning of ballet in this new way. Under normal circumstances we would have spent a whole term on a particular class; this short series seemed to end just as we were getting going. Emboldened by my YouTube experience I rashly promised to film the whole class so that people could continue to practise and develop the work we had begun. Another steep learning curve through August as I worked out with much cursing how to film myself on iMovie and edit my clips together with captions interspersed. The result three videos, comprising a warm-up, barre work and centre practice with demonstration and explanation, which are accessible via a private Vimeo link; contact me if you are interested in purchasing this.
I was but one of many exploring dance on film under lockdown. A feature of this period was the outpouring of creative homemade and small-scale dance movies reflecting the difficult career changing circumstances of dancers both poignantly and humorously; both students and professionals skilfully and imaginatively exploring the possible. Not only filming within the confines of the home, but also out in deserted streets, beaches, parks and gardens, taking the chance to leap and bound in casual clothes and sneakers, revealing dancing personalities in fresh and liberating ways in relation to the natural world. Regular permitted walks brought aesthetic delight in observing the process of seasonal transformation; I spent a happy summer afternoon improvising in the atmospheric gardens at Rousham, and another in nearby woods with Banbury based dance practitioner Paula Bailey in embodied response to the tangle of fallen branches, accompanied by the rustle of leaves and birdsong…
Meanwhile out of all these learning experiences a choreographic project was taking shape, building on a longstanding interest in the concept of technical studies, borrowed from musical composition, that I had previously explored in Inside Out in 2011; theoretical ideas emerging from my research now seeping into my practice. It felt as though, for many ballet dancers, training at home in a confined space emphasised maintaining physical fitness and mechanical abilities; but provided little opportunity to explore and refine the expressive dimensions of their technical skills. My idea to produce miniature dances tailored to performance in smaller spaces that would embed technical concepts, study and challenge into an artistic form, to give dancers something beyond mere exercises when theatrical performance opportunities are non-existent; and to enable non-professionals to develop their own sense of dancing as a communicative expressive statement.
Part of this has involved an extensive search for suitable music, initially sticking with piano music as an extension from class. Devising the enchaînements for YouTube had alerted me to the minefield of copyright in the digital domain, throwing up not simply the practical questions of music rights and permissions, but also profound philosophical questions of ownership of both music and the dance. An absorbing black hole where there are as yet more questions than answers… I have valued throughout this year email dialogue and discussion on musical matters with the immensely knowledgeable and experienced ballet accompanist Jonathan Still, and commend all those interested in the use of music in the ballet class to his enlightening blog, highly recommended!
To bring structure to a project developing a very different outcome in an unfamiliar medium I have participated in two of the inspiring mentored programmes run by Caroline Salem of Clarence Mews. This year dancing in that tranquil studio has been almost entirely impossible, but Caroline set up online programmes in which artists might continue to come together to share their emerging work in a safe and supportive environment, and give and receive feedback; also valuably try out new techniques for sharing and producing work online. From July to August I took part in an intense Virtual Month of Making via Zoom with 5 other artists, comprising weekly sharings and regular one-to-one sessions with Caroline; and have just completed a further 10 week programme with 4 others. It has been a joy to share the solitary and often doubt ridden process of creation with artists from as far afield as Finland and Tokyo as well as closer to home, and who are also working with media beyond dance; aerial work, comedy, spoken word, writing (both prose and poetry), flower arranging, installation work, film, sharing these in stimulating cross fertilization… And to marvel at the richness of ideas budding despite enormous restriction, artists putting forth hopeful green shoots in a year which has often seemed barren and devastated.
Another positive aspect of this difficult year has been closer involvement with Oxford Dance Forum (ODF) . Following last autumn’s conclusion of the successful 3 year ACE funded Evolution programme, a new phase beckoned, time to re-evaluate and initiate new projects. At the AGM in January a small steering team was confirmed, with Jenny Parrott continuing her valuable work as Administrator, Jane Connelly as Treasurer, Ségolène Tarte as Secretary and myself as Chair. We looked initially to continue valuable practical programmes for Oxford based dance artists such as monthly Creative Labs, and Scratch Nights at the Old Fire Station. With lockdown these were inevitably indefinitely suspended; but our activity was not! We have met regularly, using this down time to revise ODF membership arrangements and constitution; we also instigated regular Thursday afternoon informal Check in and Chat sessions. As well as providing a way for local dancers to keep in touch these have helped ODF to link up with similar organisations across the South East region and beyond. Jenny’s heroic efforts have ensured that a monthly newsletter packed with information about opportunities and assistance has gone out to members and wider associates; providing cheering evidence of solidarity and ingenuity within the beleaguered but unbowed independent dance sector.
ODF’s huge gratitude also goes to two local venues, themselves struggling with the financial devastation wrought by lockdown closure, but still reaching out to support freelance artists facing suspension of activity and loss of livelihood. September brought a fruitful collaboration with Oxford Playhouse to provide a week of free Covid safe rehearsal space for local artists in the Burton Taylor Studio; and in November and December Arts at the Old Fire Station (OFS) began a generous programme of affordable access to its studio, which ODF is further subsidising for its members under the name “Breathing Space”; a real bargain and a chance for local dancers to get on with developing work in anticipation of the eventual resumption of performance opportunities… continuing into 2021, watch this space!
Also continuing bravely to programme events despite setbacks was Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) based at St Hilda’s College. It was not possible to bring people together at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, but indefatigable director Professor Sue Jones programmed a Virtual Summer School featuring enlightening lectures on major American choreographer Paul Taylor by Alastair Macaulay and beautiful Taylor dancer Parisa Kobdeh, alongside new dance scholarship, including a lecture by myself: “The Ballet Class: A Critical Reading”. All the lectures are now available on the JduP YouTube Channel, along with previous DANSOX lectures by distinguished scholars and practitioners, you can find this treasure trove here.
Sadly this year brought great losses within my dance family. At the beginning of February John Travis, genial former Director of the British Ballet Organization whom I had first come to know in the late 1980s, died after a long battle with cancer; you can read an account of his rich career as a performer, teacher, educator, director, librarian, archivist, and mentor here. And then the teacher who had taught me and others so much over recent years, both as dancers and as people, the wonderful Roger Tully, passed peacefully away on 26th February. My last social gathering before lockdown was his funeral; a beautiful sunny spring day with blue sky and nodding daffodils paying perfect tribute. Here is the heartfelt obituary written by fellow Tully alumni Jennifer Jackson and Nicholas Minns for The Dancing Times. You can also read some reflections on Roger’s teaching in my essai “Outside the mainstream: ballet teaching at the margins” recently published in Theatre, Dance and Performance Journalhere. Roger’s Wednesday classes for the “Tully Collective” continue in London and now online, providing an opportunity to keep his refined and thoughtful teachings alive through their on-going practice, with classes taught on a rota by Naomi Sorkin, Jennifer Jackson, Patrick Wood, Aniko Nagy and myself.
Closer to home at the beginning of lockdown my Oxford ballet friend and fellow student, Caroline Wheatcroft (nee Pavely) died shockingly too soon of a brain tumour. Her untimely death prompted nostalgic reminiscences about our happy times learning ballet together, first with Beryl Jackson at the Tetlow Hulme Ballet Studio off New Inn Hall Street, and then with June Christian, before we both went to the Royal Ballet School; you can read more about this lovely sunny person and our early experiences here.
Finally on 17th November much loved teacher and exemplary dancer Karen Sellick, stalwart of the Oxford dance community, passed away, again from cancer; another cruel reminder that Covid19 is not the only killer. She is greatly missed by pupils and colleagues for her unfailing interest and support, and her joyous dancing in classes well into her eighties, providing inspiration to us all. Oxford Dance Writers will be publishing a tribute to her.
Throughout this year I have struggled to keep my anger at bay. I am horrified by the shameless ideological dismantling and removal of democratic representation and rights, the mendacity and corruption of government, the trashing of opportunities for generations to come, and the political incompetence which has allowed Covid19 to rage. I have watched with despair as the arts world suffers the perfect storm that is its downgrading and disappearance through impoverished educational policy and the short-sighted commodification of higher education, combined with the economic havoc wrought by Covid19 closures and now the loss of freedom of movement through Brexit. Yet I have also regularly been reminded of the miraculous transformative effect of engaging with the arts, which have been there through this most difficult of years bringing joy, solace, and enlightenment, genuinely enriching the lives of those who embrace them. A New Year’s resolution then to do my utmost to continue, promote and support the artistic activity and community this battered and misguidedcountry sorely needs.
An annual spring social gathering in our road about recycling and exchanging household stuff, plant cuttings, and meeting the neighbours over a mug of coffee and home-made cake was sadly impossible in its usual form this year while observing guidelines for social distancing. So alternative ways to share and promote community spirit were proposed by the tireless organisers, encouraging all to contribute in other ways, with people posting up poems and images for passing residents to enjoy, and a moment to come onto the street to greet each other from a suitable distance. I devised a topically themed physically distanced Scottish country dance which we could participate in without breaking the rules – and much entertainment and amusement was had by those who wholeheartedly joined in or watched. Accompaniment on the bagpipes from husband Peter was a medley including “Cock of the North”. Feel free to use the instructions below in your own street…
Following last week’s experiment I will be teaching Kitchen Class by Zoom on Monday 27th April 5.30pm till 7.00pm. The plan is that this Monday open class of approximately Intermediate level will continue on a regular basis until early June; and as necessary from then onwards. In order to cover costs I would like to request that those attending each class make a suggested donation of £5.00.
A big thank you to those who attended last week for your very helpful feedback; I hope that lessons learned from this will help the class to run more smoothly and give you all a better experience. Getting the best from this medium is a work in progress…
If you would like to attend, please drop me an email soonest and I will send you an invitation and payment details. If you are worrying about being able to pay please let me know.
Looking forward to meeting up for class tomorrow,
Take care and stay safe! Susie
I am taking the plunge – and will be teaching class live online from my kitchen via Webex on Monday 20th April at 5.00pm. This will be an approximately intermediate level class, with options to do simpler or more complex versions of the enchainements and to accommodate your particular environment, and will probably last 1 hour 15-30 minutes.
This is new territory for me. There will therefore be no charge for this class, but I would really appreciate feedback afterwards on how it works for you. I hope that I can continue to offer this on a regular basis while we are all locked down, and there would in future be a nominal charge.
If you would like to join Kitchen Class please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send an invitation with a link…
I will be continuing to post an Enchainement of the day as regularly as possible on YouTube for those that prefer to work in their own time and at their own pace. You can find all those posted so far on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channel here.
Taking this opportunity also to flag up Ségolène Tarte’s tremendously helpful blog post on her Dancing Convolutions blog here about doing classes at home; not only providing wise advice about safe practice, but also a great list of tried and tested suggestions for classes in different styles and formats:
I can completely endorse her recommendation of the lovely warm-up she found by dancers from the Slovenian National Theatre, accessible to all, just follow along here and enjoy, an uplifting way to start the day…
I hope that you are coping with the continuing lockdown, and despite this able to enjoy the spring weather a bit.
Ballet in Small Spaces has been searching for online ways to help people keep their ballet practice alive in the smallest of spaces. Some have already checked out my series of Enchainement of the day Instagram posts at susiecrowbiss. As there appears to be a restriction of 60 seconds now on videos on Instagram, I have taken the decision to transfer this to YouTube. You can now find the continuing series on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbAJIO9c-u4DZ2vCcwi6h6w
I will continue to post announcements on Instagram as further material goes up. The idea is to provide barre work and centre work enchainments for you to work on in your own time and at your own pace. Please do subscribe and post any questions or comments; we are all learning here, and I would welcome your feedback…
I hope you are keeping well, and despite the current extraordinary and restrictive circumstances are at least able to enjoy something of the beautiful spring sunshine… Here are some suggestions to mitigate the current lack of dance activities, which have had to close down to maintain social distancing and combat the spread of Covid 19.
In these extraordinary times Oxford Dance Writers plans to keep going on a regular basis, despite the lack of performances and events to flag up and review. As we all seek for ways to keep dancing practice alive at home, as well as other content ODW hopes to provide a place where those of us that love dance can find out more about, and discuss, the vast array of training material available online. Check out Sonia Tycko’s useful starter guide and suggestions here
As a contribution to this cornucopia, I have finally joined Instagram, where I am posting short enchainments on a daily basis from my kitchen; look for the Enchainement of the day at susiecrowbiss…
Do consider posting a comment on Oxford Dance Writers in response to what you read there; ODW would welcome your thoughts and recommendations, however brief. If you are interested in writing a more substantial piece about the dance that you see online, either performances, dance videos and films, or training resources, please email email@example.com.
It is with a very heavy heart that I write to let you know that all BiSS ballet classes at the URC are suspended as from Thursday 19th March. In the light of all that is going on, and aware that quite a number of class members are already taking sensible precautionary action to self isolate, it seems the safest and most responsible thing to do. This suspension will continue till the end of April; I will of course post any developments or changes to that date.
Meanwhile I will be looking into ways to keep in touch online and via social media, so that those that wish may be able to keep up some useful and enjoyable practice even while isolated at home, as many dancers internationally are already beginning to do. For starters I am very grateful to Sonia Tycko who sent this article with cheery clip which may give you a few ideas about what is possible even if in a limited space…
Planning to post more on this blog, so watch this space…
Take care and keep safe!
My very best wishes to you all,
There are numerous links embedded in this piece; scroll your cursor over the text to find out more…
A year ago I didn’t manage to write a review of 2018; which had ended momentously with the wonderful winter wedding just before Christmas of my daughter Joanna and her man Dan. A very happy occasion with much laughter and song; and the talents of dear dancer friends from Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet days were visible in the bride’s beautiful dress from Ritva Westenius, now headed by Chenca Williams, and gorgeous floral arrangements by Covent Garden’s go-to florist Bloomsbury Flowers run by Stephen Wicks and Mark Welford.
Building up to this special family event had shaped a year otherwise spent in regular teaching but also academic activity; beginning in January with a lecture for the History of Performance Course devised by the admirable Jane Pritchard, Curator of Dance at the Victoria and Albert Museum which houses the former Theatre Museum collections. ‘Dancers, audiences and spaces: reflections from practice’ had been originally presented at a Dance and Academia event in Oxford programmed by Miranda Laurence. It drew on my own experience as a dancer in considering different spaces for dance and their effects on the relationship between performer and audience. In April the more theoretical side of my doctoral research had its first outing in a paper ‘The ballet class: oral tradition and embodied learning’ at the Society for Dance Research’s conference evocatively titled ‘Dance in the Age of Forgetfulness’. Read More
A special treat for those doing classes at URC on Saturdays this term. Hannah Quinn is currently the Ivor Guest Trainee Pianist at the Royal Ballet, and as part of this programme she is getting additional experience playing for BiSS Saturday ballet classes. This is proving a real treat, a wonderful opportunity to enjoy dancing with a live musician rather than recorded music, and to experience the instantaneous collaboration and enhanced listening that this cultivates in dancers. See below for a biography of Hannah.
British Pianist Hannah Quinn graduated with Distinction from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with an MMus in Repetiteurship. During her studies she was awarded the Leonard Hancock Memorial Prize and the James H. Geddes repetiteur prize. Hannah is an alumnus of the National Opera Studio.
Hannah has had extensive experience in the operatic world, but after discovering ballet through a couple of freelance contracts, has fallen in love with the classical dance form and has taken active steps to pursue it. Hannah is absolutely delighted to be training at the Royal Ballet this season and is fully committed to making the most of this excellent opportunity in order to gain the skills required of a ballet pianist.
Hannah has worked on Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances as it was being devised as a new piece by Liam Scarlett. She has also played for Wayne McGregor in his new commission Obsidian Tear, set to the music of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx. Hannah has also worked with singers and dancers together in Javier Dr Frutos’ Les Enfants Terribles by Philip Glass. She is currently working on Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto, The Sleeping Beauty and Coppelia.
In the operatic world, Hannah has worked as a repetiteur at English National Opera, British Youth Opera, Scottish Opera and English Touring Opera where she was Head of Music Staff for two seasons.
Hannah has also performed as a song recital accompanist in the UK and abroad. She has a varied interest in repertoire spanning German Lied, French Melodie and contemporary music.
Hannah is also a trained conductor and has performed with Southbank Sinfonia, Trinity Orchestra, Tianjin Philharmonic, Hampstead Garden Opera and English Touring Opera.